Kirk Apt has finished the Hardrock 100 more than anyone else. This year, he made it an even 20 finishes. In the following interview, Kirk talks about his favorite memories from 20 Hardrock finishes, the people that have made them special, what he’s seen change over the years, and why new runners end up ‘getting’ Hardrock once they’re there… among many other things.
For the whole story on the 2014 Hardrock 100, read our results article.
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Kirk Apt Post-2014 Hardrock 100 Interview Transcript
iRunFar: Bryon Powell of iRunFar here with Kirk Apt after his 20th Hardrock finish. How about that?
Kirk Apt: Oh man, it was a great weekend and a wonderful experience. So rich on every level—it was everything Hardrock should be. It was way hard. It was lightning. It was fun as always. Everything Hardrock should be it was that to the 10th power.
iRunFar: You’ve probably seen a lot of changes at Hardrock over the years or have you?
Apt: Well, I have seen some changes but it’s still essentially the same which is why it’s Hardrock, the best part about it.
iRunFar: That’s pretty awesome. Have you run 20 straight Hardrocks?
Apt: Yes, 21 actually, although it ran me the first year. I had to drop out at Sherman.
iRunFar: Did you. So you have a DNF then?
Apt: I have a DNF. That’s my only DNF in a 100-mile run.
iRunFar: So you’re 20 for 21?
iRunFar: When you were about to pull the plug in that first one, were you thinking, I’m going to do this 20 times?
Apt: Didn’t get to that point. It was really early in my ultrarunning experience. Looking back on it, I think I got food poisoning. It wasn’t like you start feeling bad, you get sick, you puke, and you start running again, and it’s all good. No, I think I was feeling good, and then I wasn’t, and then I was in the weeds dry heaving for the next eight hours.
iRunFar: So there were some extenuating circumstances in that one.
Apt: Yeah, there was.
iRunFar: In 20 years of doing this, it’s an incredibly tough race no matter how you slice it, how do you not have any outside factors take you out in those 20 years?
Apt: A whole lot of luck. Just finishing here is so meaningful. I can’t imagine pulling out unless my bone is sticking out and gushing blood or I get timed out which is probably more likely to happen.
iRunFar: You’re not really close yet.
Apt: No, but I, actually, on my split sheets I wrote down the cutoff times for the first time.
iRunFar: This is your 21st time. In 20 times, no cutoff times.
Apt: Never really thought about the cutoff’s, but it’s becoming something that’s at least on my radar.
iRunFar: Is that just due to age?
Apt: I think so. Back in the day when I was a little more competitive, that was great fun and I really enjoyed that experience. Then I just kind of naturally found myself getting slower. So you can either hold on to the competitive side of it and either lose your love for it or you look at it in a different way. That’s what I’m doing.
iRunFar: When you say you were competitive, how far up were you in those early races?
Apt: I have one win and a handful of top 10s.
iRunFar: Yeah, so you’ve seen the gamut of this race. You do have to make a transition. Part of that is that you’ve seen the race… what about the field here this year?
Apt: Yeah, it’s different, really different. It’s really cool to see the new, really seriously fast ultrarunners. I set the course record here and I ran just under 30 hours. Now that doesn’t even get you a top 10. That was in 2000, just a short amount of time.
iRunFar: Is that the first time under 30 hours? 2000-what year?
Apt: 2000 on the course. I think David Horton went under 30 hours on the first year but it had some other road sections and it was a faster course.
iRunFar: So in the course of 14 years it’s down to 22:41.
Apt: Unbelievable. That’s just mind boggling.
iRunFar: So when you ran it under 30 hours for the first time, which direction was it?
Apt: It was in the opposite direction we ran it this year, so it was counterclockwise.
iRunFar: So you’re not even to Telluride at 22.
Apt: Yeah, I think I was climbing Handies this year and Kilian [Jornet] just finished.
iRunFar: Can you wrap your head around that?
Apt: No, yeah, that’s unbelievable, unbelievable.
iRunFar: But you see these fast people here and for some it’s their profession, it’s their job, but do you see the same spirit continuing on as the field evolves over the years?
Apt: Yeah, I think so. Even if the runners come here and they don’t really get it, they get it pretty quickly. It’s palpable here.
iRunFar: Do you think the way that the organization builds not just the event and the volunteers but even the lottery system could contribute to that?
Apt: Yeah, sure, I think the Board of Directors, that’s probably primarily on their agenda is keeping Hardrock Hardrock and letting it grow and move forward so that the new people can come in and experience it, but keeping it Hardrock.
iRunFar: I don’t get the sense that that’s a proprietary thing like it’s the old guys wanting to keep getting in. All week I’ve been out here and just every time I think about Hardrock, Hardrock is family. There’s that sense–everybody signing the map for you. You look at that list, but you and I both are going to know more than half the people on there. It’s people who have a deep love and passion. It’s not just something on their bucket list. If they don’t get in, they’re out here. They’re volunteering and crewing.
Apt: Yes. And they’re Hardrockers. They’re part of the family. You don’t have to complete the race to be a part of the family.
iRunFar: Totally. There are a lot of people who are Hardrock who have never run the race.
Apt: Yeah, yeah, for sure. Key parts of Hardrock are people who have never done the race.
iRunFar: One of the special people of this race is John DeWalt. What was it like not having him here this year?
Apt: Yeah, we had a really nice little celebration of John and also we lost Gary Curry recently. Gary was a three-time Hardrock finisher and well-respected and loved by everyone. That was definitely a part of my weekend kind of celebrating their lives and kind of keeping them in mind. I called on Gary a few times during the race. Gary had a really fun thing he used to do. Any race he was doing, if there are any forward and back traffic or if he’s passing someone or getting passed by someone, he’d call out, “How’s it?” And just have this real kind of joyous statement. “How’s it”—real simple, contraction of how is it maybe? More than that, it was more like, “This is great! How lucky are we! We’re out here in one of the most beautiful places in the world. Go get ‘em! Enjoy your day!” All that was in “How’s it.” So on top of every pass I yelled out, “How’s it!?” Coming into the finish, I had one more “How’s it” for Gary. Like I said, there were those times when it was like, “Oh, man, this is really hard. Gary, how’s it? Doing better.”
iRunFar: Awesome. Were there any… there was no point during the race where you thought you weren’t going to make it, was there?
Apt: Not really, but I had a little extra adventure in Pole Creek. It was raining like heck and it’s 70 or whatever miles in there, almost 80, and I slipped on a slick rock and I went in. I went swimming. I went in all… everything was wet except for maybe half my head when I fell like that. When I got out I’m like [demo’s shivering]—freezing cold water. I was cold anyway because it had been raining and you’ve been out there all night and this is kind of early in the morning. Yeah, that definitely woke me up and made me get moving. I’d actually been struggling with the sleep monster for quite awhile there. That actually snapped me out of it. Something that a Five-Hour Energy couldn’t do.
iRunFar: A shocking fall in a brisk stream—maybe another tool in your bag for next year.
Apt: Yes, for sure. I know what I can do now. Maybe I can just dunk my head instead of diving in.
iRunFar: Probably a good idea. Did you have any highlights during the race—anything that stood out for you?
Apt: Oh boy, a bunch of stuff. The first thing that comes to mind is I had the good fortune of being on top of Handies right as the sun was rising and the moon was setting. So it’s like, here’s the east and the sky was just an incredible orange glowing and red-orange and just beautiful. You turn around and you look the other way and the moon is setting and we hadn’t seen the moon all night. There were a couple of cloud banks and it was kind of shining through the clouds there. It feels like you’re standing on top of the world when you finally haul your butt up there after such an effort. That was cool. I also got to spend a lot of trail time with old friends and new friends and just sharing the experience. That’s Hardrock.
iRunFar: Obviously Hardrock is always tough, but the weather seemed particularly finicky this year. Is it up there in terms of weather you’ve seen?
Apt: I lucked out because I really never felt threatened by electricity. I got wet but whatever, you get rained on and it’s no big deal. Boy, coming into the aid station afterwards and hearing some of the stories, wow, I had no idea it was that bad out there.
iRunFar: It’s interesting because at other races like UTMB, there will be a big front that comes through and everybody gets wet. But at Hardrock, one peak to the next, one basin to the next, you can be destroyed or under blue sky.
Apt: Yes, it’s timing, yeah. Yeah, I guess the weather goddess was looking out for me there.
iRunFar: Of all your Hardrocks, what’s your best memory out there?
Apt: Oh, I think the one that sticks with me most happened last year. I was up on Putman, the top of the last climb as we were coming in this way last year. The sun was setting and it had been a pretty active day also weather-wise. We have this great 360-degree view. I have blue sky over me, but just some of the craziest thunder and lightning storms doing off in the distance in all directions. Looking across Bear Creek, there was a cloud right on top of the ridge there and you could tell it was raining pretty strong, but that low-angle sun was illuminating under the cloud and just alpenglow on the cliffs there. Gosh, just being up in that meadow, it was full of those fushia Indian paintbrush and it was reflecting that to the extent that it looked like the air was actually red. There were three or four rainbows. I stopped there and I was just like… I can’t believe what I’m looking at.
iRunFar: Somebody photoshopped the day.
Apt: Yeah, exactly. Yeah, it was amazing. So that’s one of my really great memories… 20 great years.
iRunFar: Will you go for finish 21 next year?
Apt: Oh sure, yeah. I’m going to keep going as long as I’m having fun and lucky enough to be healthy enough to believe that I can get around the course. When I’m not, I’ll still be here working at an aid station or whatever. This is a highlight of my year. I’m not going to miss it.
iRunFar: Is there one person who exemplifies Hardrock to you? Is there one person who is, for you, Hardrock?
Apt: Dale [Garland], without a doubt.
Apt: He’s all about the community. He’s out here from the first finisher at 22:40 to the last at 47:50 or whenever it was. Then he’s up on stage the next day and can give you a little anecdote about every single person. Wow, what a cool thing.
iRunFar: If this is a family, he’s the patriarch.
Apt: Yeah, yeah.
iRunFar: Thanks for making Hardrock what it is, Kirk.
Apt: Oh, I appreciate it.
iRunFar: I like to have a bonus question.
iRunFar: One sentence—Hardrock is…?
Apt: Hardrock is community coming together to celebrate magnificent mountains.
Apt: What do you think?
iRunFar: They are magnificent. We are a community.
Apt: We’re lucky.